Jessica Williams, jazz pianist, composer


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The 'second attention'

I realized this morning, somewhere around 5 am, that our attention (that thing we use to focus on that which we focus on) is the key to our feeling and our emotive color.

The Yaqi Indians call it the 'second attention' when they practice magic; they shift their attention to an entirely different (second) plane of presumed existence, and are then governed by the laws of that new world.

Gravity is one way here.

There, it's up for grabs.

In our more cognitive, regrettably less esoteric reality, we do the same thing, to a lesser degree.

So here's what I was doing (for quite a while, actually);

I was shifting my attention (by habit, so much of our lives are unnoticed habit) on to things (ideas, actions, ephemera, news stories, events, non- events) and, in so doing, was shifting my emotional life into a dark place. My emotive color was affected negatively because I was studying negative phenomena.

Absolutely fascinated by anti-life.

Not that these negative things don't exist! Wow, do they exist, in abundance! And they bother most all of us to greater or lesser degrees.

I'm an intransigent liberal slash humanist slash freedom lover, so anything I see coming down the road that smells of the opposite is bound to attract my attention.

The aroma can be stifling, though.

At around 5 am it hits me:

We take on the power and the tone of the things that we try desperately to avoid. The more we observe them, the more power they exert over us.

Conversely, during times of deep tranquility and peace of heart and mind, I am totally wrapped in that warm place that makes life worth living.

Right now (and change is the only universal constant) I have plenty of these moments.

My home life, the new addition to my family, the way the waves of the ocean beat the shore at night in accompaniment to this aura of timelessness and healing, all of this is what I want.


Then I remember what death is. How we all age and die. I remember illness and how sad it is. I remember and I project into the future. Everything I love at these moments will and must decay and perish . . . too many Woody Allen movies?

Too much Sartre?


Two quotes. One...

"I think most artists create out of despair. The very nature of creation is not a performing glory on the outside, it's a painful, difficult search within." - Louise Nevelson

And two...

"Art is offensive. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous." - Pablo Picasso

Quote number one sums up the situation pretty thoroughly. I'm not the first (by far) to have these 'aberrations of attention'; the entire Lotus Sutra is devoted to creating and maintaining the delicate stillness of the heart amidst the brutish din of the life around us, the destruction of our inner utopia. Lots of times my best art comes out of my darkest moments.

And quote number two is admittedly an impossibly arrogant statement by an immensely arrogant man, and it's also unbearably true. I'm one of the 'ignorant innocents'; I KNOW this stuff is as dangerous as dynamite.

I'll bet old Pablo had his days and nights of existential morbidity . . . his paintings are too vivid a reflection of a bloody and gritty reality to come from an unfeeling ubermensch.


It not being New Year's Eve yet, I'll avoid making a list of resolutions.

I'm also at an age where I'm reasonably secure in knowing just how unpredictable life (and one's reactions to it) can be...

But, like the Yaqi Indian, I intend to work very hard to keep my eye off of the center of attention (the dreary truth of much of life, the meaninglessness of much of it) and remember the importance of that which is in the corner of one's peripheral vision.

That's the 'second attention'; that's the ocean waves, that's the perfect new life I hold in my hands, that's the love that never gets old or dies, that's the ability to fly and make art and make love and make music.

I've spent enough time focusing on our problems, our shortcomings, our bad habits, our unfair world.

I'm tired of reading or watching the news, then thinking about it, and THEN WRITING about it. Sounds pretty silly, now that I put it that way.

It's time to live.

Ignore death and illness and decay. It'll be there whether I watch it or not.

I'm going to NOT watch it for as long as I can.

That's as close as I can come to a resolution.



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